Tribute album “Rave on Buddy Holly,” released a little over a month ago through Hear Music and Fantasy/Concord, is the first in a series of efforts to mark the 75th birthday of the rock icon early next month, including the dedication of Holly’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Tribute albums are hardly novel, of course, but the scope of this one, and its provenance with one of Hollywood’s most storied music supervisors, make it notable.
The project is the brainchild of Gelya Robb and Randall Poster, the latter best known for his long track record as a music supervisor for the likes of Wes Anderson, Martin Scorsese and Todd Haynes. Aside from the unusual caliber of artists contributing tracks to the record — ranging from Paul McCartney to Florence and the Machine, My Morning Jacket, Lou Reed and Cee Lo Green — the project is notable for its multigenerational tack, as well as its thoroughly nontraditional approach to a canonical artist’s catalog.
Poster has become something of a specialist in contemporizing vintage artists, and his work with Haynes in particular has set the precedents for the Buddy Holly project.
When David Bowie put the kibosh on plans to feature his music in “Velvet Goldmine,” Poster compiled a soundtrack of glam-rock covers and stylistically appropriate originals from the likes of Radiohead and Pulp.
In crafting a soundtrack for 2007’s experimental Bob Dylan biopic “I’m Not There,” Poster turned to such unexpected performers as Stephen Malkmus, Sonic Youth and Mark Lanegan to reflect the diversity of Dylan’s oeuvre.
“The nice thing bout this undertaking was that I didn’t have to fit any of the music into a scene in a movie, so that was liberating for me,” said Poster.
Much like his work with Haynes, Poster sought to avoid the early rock period trappings that could have easily consumed the project, kicking the record off with the Black Keys’ version of “Dearest” that tackles the Holly standard with an almost Zen-like minimalism.
“We tried to make the record as tough as we could make it, and tried to get people who could render the emotional core of the songs,” Poster said. “We weren’t looking to do anything too frilly or too fully adorned; we really wanted to speak to the heart of the repertoire.”
Except for that loose guiding principle, Poster and Robb gave the contributing artists free reign to interpret the material, and most embraced the freedom.
Patti Smith reimagined “Words of Love” as a grandmotherly lullaby, while Strokes frontman Julian Casablancas reworked “Rave On” as a moodily down-tempo dance track and Modest Mouse transformed “That’ll Be the Day” into a spooky No Wave experiment that Poster described as “veer(ing) toward the edge of sanity.”
In any case, there’s little here that could be comfortably played in a ’50s diner, which was part of the plan.
“As the album evolved, we became more interested in making sure that we were paying tribute to the different sounds of Buddy Holly — Buddy Holly did rockabilly, he had a country-western influence, and he had very much been taken into the race repertoire and R&B realm. That was where we did our best curating, I think, in just making sure that he was included in all of his musical incarnations.”
The record peaked at No. 15 on the album charts after its late June release, and while those aren’t Adele-level numbers, it’s certainly far higher than any Buddy Holly material has charted in decades (2008’s compilation “Not Fade Away” peaked at No. 101).
If the album continues to gain traction, it could provide a model for creative exploitation of deep catalogs beyond the endless succession of compilations and remasters.
“We’re hoping we’re going to get to do some more of these things,” Poster added.